Even if blues artist Buddy Guy never played another note, sang another word, or climbed on one more stage, his place in blues music history is assured. Cutting his musical teeth in his Louisiana backyard, Guy moved to Chicago in 1957 and quickly fell in with talented West Side head-cutters like Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, and Magic Sam. Guy's musical collaborations with his friend, harpist Junior Wells, are among the best blues ever caught on tape.
Buddy Guy's Skin Deep, his first studio effort in 3 years, brings the legendary blues musician back to his legendary electric-blues sound after a number of critically-acclaimed musical experiments and a couple of modest non-starters. With a little help from friends like Eric Clapton and Derek Trucks, Guy has created one of the best albums of his lengthy career.
Buddy Guy's Skin Deep
Make sure that you turn up the sound for "Best Damn Fool," the Chicago blues-styled stomper that opens Buddy Guy's Skin Deep, and pay particular attention to the stereo separation. A typical "I'm the best man that you'll ever get" blues song, Guy and guitarist Dave Grissom swap notes on one side or 'nother of the mix, Guy aiming his '57 Fender Strat straight for the heart of the matter while Grissom colors around the edges with understated guitar lines. Guy's solo fretwork resonates out of the box while the horns, deftly arranged for maximum overdrive by R&B great Willie Mitchell, squeal with delight.
The raucous "Show Me The Money" is another Chicago blues rave-up featuring soul-drenched backing vocals courtesy of Bekka Bramlett and Wendy Moten. Guy lets his vintage '74 Telecaster fly with reckless abandon across a solid rhythm in what is sure to become a crowd-pleasing live favorite. "Hammer And A Nail" is a so-so song notable mostly as an excuse for Guy to work out with his Buddy Guy Strat, his notes bobbing and weaving above a marching, martial rhythm. Guy's mostly-spoken vocals sound a bit strained here, perhaps in trying to keep up with the song's unusually strident meter.
Guy's performance on the album-closing "I Found Happiness," however, is everything that a blues fan could ask for. With Guy toting an Eric Clapton Strat and Reese Wynans providing a suitable canvas of gorgeous organ fills, the guitarist proceeds to tutor listeners with broad, colorful strokes of guitar that cut through the blanket of sorrow that hangs over the song. Guy's vocals are effective, powerful, and mournful, caressing the bittersweet words as punched-up emotional notes provide the tears that his voice is unable to muster.
With Friends Like These...
Guy had a few friends drop by for these sessions, folks like blues guitarists Derek Trucks and his lovely wife, Susan Tedeschi; fellow guitar legend Eric Clapton; steel guitarist Robert Randolph; and young blues prodigy Quinn Sullivan (only nine freakin' years old!).
With Trucks' stellar slidework at the forefront, Guy and Tedeschi duet on "Too Many Tears," Guy's raw bluesy vocals matched well with Tedeschi's sensual roar as the three guitarists throw down wicked bad notes on top of a funky groove, Guy adding an exotic buzz to the song with custom-built Jerry Jones Sitar.
Trucks comes back for the title track, "Skin Deep" a socially-conscious musing on the nature of race where Guy lays his heart down on the table with a strong vocal performance, elegant fretwork, and delicate, nuanced backing instrumentation. This is the kind of soulful stretch that Trucks exceeds at, the younger bluesman layering on his molten riffs. With Wynans' tasteful gospel-flavored organ fills, the song takes on a spiritual dignity.
Buddy Guy & Eric Clapton Sing The Blues
With Clapton in tow, the two blues guitarists attack "Every Time I Sing The Blues," creating an instant classic that offers passionate vocals from both artists, dark blue lyrics, and piercing guitarwork that'll shake you right to the bottom of your feet. An extended blues jam near the end of the song matches chaos with fury, both in full force, the six-string storm provided subtle shading from Wynans' keyboards. Of all of Clapton's recent collaborations, this is easily the best, EC and Guy sounding like the weathered pros that they are, having a great time in the process.
"Out In The Woods," with Robert Randolph, pulls Skin Deep back to the Mississippi Delta, Guy's vocals taking on a different tone, his Gibson Custom 335 screaming above Randolph's powerful steel, creating a very cool swampedelic vibe and evoking memories of Howlin' Wolf's rawest performances. "That's My Home" is an up-tempo houserocker with stinging fretwork and drum-bashing rhythms from drummer Richie Hayward and bassist Willie Weeks.
"Who's Gonna Fill Those Shoes" is an appropriate passing of the torch between the 72-year-old elder statesman of the blues and pre-teen six-string wizard Quinn Sullivan. The two guitarists tear up the joint with a scorching rocker that name checks Son House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, the three "Kings" - B.B., Albert and Freddy - as well as John Lee Hooker, Lightning Hopkins, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among others as "the ones who made the blues." The implication, of course, is that Sullivan is the next generation to keep the blues alive, and after listening to this kid light the speakers on fire, I'd agree with Guy's claims.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Whew...if Skin Deep doesn't scratch that blues music itch of yours way down deep, then go slap some Celine Dion on your stereo, 'cause you couldn't possibly be a blues music fan. Guy delivers his best six-string performance in over a decade, and the competition created by guest pickers like Clapton, Trucks, Tedeschi, and even Sullivan not only add electricity to their respective tracks, but they also help pull the best out of Guy as well. Overall, Skin Deep is an exciting and invigorating album, Guy reinforcing his legendary status with a work worthy of his great talents. (Silvertone Records)